In the end, Knights deliver perfection

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

The perfect hockey game is yet to be played, but after the London Knights took a pretty good stab at it yesterday, there can be a perfect aftermath.

It was in the coaches room, where the five-year plan for the Knights' Memorial Cup victory began. The breadth of London's decisive victory over the Rimouski Oceanic was readily apparent.

There was general manager Mark Hunter and coach Dale Hunter, architects of the five-year plan that delivered the elusive trophy to this city. Over there was NHL Hall of Famer Paul Coffey.

Nearby sat Dick Hunter, patriarch of the hockey Hunters along with former NHLer and Knight Basil McRae and some other rugged hockey types. Amid them all, like a rose among some pretty hard rocks, was Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco, who had just seen the team she has come to love lift an entire city.

"You can't measure the value," she said. "If you could harness all the energy and hard work that went into this throughout the city, it would be incredible."

The mayor was misting over a bit. The decisive 4-0 victory before a national television and newspaper audience had more than incalculable positives for London.

She also became as caught up as any fan.

"They're like my kids," she said. "I've got to know them all. When I run into them, they come over with a 'Hi, Anne Marie' and a hug."

Yesterday's was a victory for a lot of things, mainly persistence and the owners' belief system that never wavered. It continued through to the end of the Knights' final game of a storied season, quite possibly their finest game in a record-setting season full of them.

Head coach Dale Hunter, TV analyst Pierre Maguire commented outside the dressing room, never varied his matchups from the game's beginning to the explosive finale of fireworks and confetti echoing and drifting through the John Labatt Centre.

For that matter, nothing changed from the moment the Hunters took over. The Memorial Cup was the goal and they brought it in on schedule.

As mentioned, the flawless game has yet to be played, but on this day, everything came together in an almost-seamless last game. Virtually from the moment Dylan Hunter won the opening faceoff from Dany Roussin, London had control and never ceded it.

This was the distillation of hundreds of thousands of man-hours expended in drafting, scouting, coaching, practising and playing. The Knights were razor-sharp.

They scarcely put a skate out of place against the tired Oceanic in securing London's first national junior championship in their 40 years and the moment was not lost on captain Danny Syvret.

"Ten years from now, we'll still be the best of friends," he said.

Longer, probably.

All week, there was the distinct sense yesterday would be a coronation. The Knights were the best team of the four in the tournament.

London had the best power play, penalty killing, faceoff men, transition game, snipers, defensive pairings, goalie tandem and coaching. As important, but not as apparent to fans, is the general character of the players.

Patient and poised on the ice, they proved the same off it. As visiting reporters noted, these are grounded, solid youngsters who know their roles.

If the final result was not inevitable to others, it appeared written on the face of Rimouski coach Doris Labonte early as he watched his team being outskated, outchanced and outworked by a deft and creative opponent.

Every line outplayed the Rimouski line it faced and hopes for any sort of Oceanic comeback were quashed when London tightened down the hatches by throwing up a trap that not only stopped the visitors, but popped out a host of London scoring chances.

There is no doubt any more. The 2004-05 London Knights are one of the greatest teams in junior hockey history. London might not see its like ever again.


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